There is something almost comical about what apologists for fascistic intolerance will do to defend the indefensible or to impeach the unimpeachable.
The kind of intolerance I am talking about is that which seeks to make us believe that we live in the best of all possible worlds, and that whoever happens to hold a contrary opinion must be either an enemy agent or a raving loony whose mind has taken leave of him or her.
So we keep hearing about what has been achieved “in record time,” even when the real achievements on the ground are, well, scant and could have been realised at a much lower cost. Some of those vaunted successes are nothing short of white elephants still in their infancy but whose eventual cost to our economy is likely to prove staggering.
Mark you, the praise singers may not be telling outright lies, and, yes, sure, some of what they claim to have scored may contain an element of truth, but just that, an element, which would have deserved due praise in its own right if it were not blown out of proportion by overzealous accolades. So, why is there this impatient desire to exaggerate what is otherwise a modest but decent performance?
The answer to that may be found in the fact that by this time next year this country will be gripped by election fever, that phenomenal effervescence that visits us every time we embark on an electoral exercise to choose those who are cutting each other’s throats to get a chance to serve us. They are so eager to serve us that they will die or kill for the privilege.
This year will see a dress rehearsal when the country holds the local government elections in which thousands of district council seats will be up for grabs. These will be accompanied by almost the same levels of chaotic noise as the general election, simply because what happens in them will presage what will happen in the big one in 2020.
President John Pombe Magufuli would definitely want to be returned for a second term, and because of that he must have told his people to paint as a rosy picture of his first period as they can. Which is fair, I suppose, because if you do not blow your own trumpet, who do you think will blow it for you?
All the same, that trumpet should not be blown out of proportion, or people may become jaded and lose interest, both in the trumpet and the trumpeter.
The Swahili have an old saying, “Chema chajiuza, kibaya chajitembeza,” whose loose translation would be, the good sells itself but the bad can only exhibit itself, which is a quiet admonition for the prudent to shun self-advertisement. Where good acts have been carried out, one has no need to oversell their glitter.
So, what can Magufuli do to show his people that he deserves a second bite at the cherry? He has already shown his determination to do great things, such as the Stiegler’s Gorge hydroelectric dam, the standard gauge train and the revamping of the ailing national airline with the purchase of a number of aircraft whose usefulness will have to be validated sometime soon.
But all these “achievements” will not be enough to guarantee the president a favourable rating if they are not accompanied by a spiritual wellbeing that seems to be lacking in the country now because of Magufuli’s leadership style.
He has caused the political and civic space to shrink by ordering unnecessary bans and allowing his government to superintend the passing by parliament of draconian laws that inhibit freedom of expression, free media, independent research and internet freedom.
Members of the clergy have already told Magufuli that his people are a cowed lot, that they carry stifled spirits and that they are becoming more grumpy by the day. Recently, when he invited the clergy to State House after a long spell of shunning them, one of his guests reiterated this charge but the head of state chose to pooh-pooh him with unhelpful platitudes.
It does not help anyone when an aspiring leader or ruler does not have the capacity to listen. In the fullness of time he/she comes to rue all the pieces of advice offered to him by people who only wished him well but which he chose to ignore.
Magufuli may come to discover, when it is too late, that building things rather than developing humanity is costly, and futile.
Jenerali Ulimwengu is chairman of the board of the Raia Mwema newspaper and an advocate of the High Court in Dar es Salaam. E-mail: [email protected]